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A level-headed news-discussion site with a sense of history and community https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/community_logos/47293/steel_curtain_fave.png 2019-06-26T06:31:00-04:00
Updated: 28 min 24 sec ago

NFL Network analyst ranks James Conner as league’s 14th best running back

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 9:30am

If Maurice Jones-Drew is to believed, almost half of the NFL has a better running back than 2019 Pro Bowl selection James Conner

With just under three months to go until the start of the regular season, it would appear that most pundits have already written off the Pittsburgh Steelers chances of success in 2019. And if all the top 100 lists and power ranking are to be believed, the team will not only lack star power this year, but will be lucky avoid a losing season for the first time since 2003.

Having recently predicted that Pittsburgh would win just seven games this season, it would be fair to say that NFL Network analyst and former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew does not have much regard for the Steelers. A vocal supporter of Le’Veon Bell during his holdout who acted as a spokesman for him in public, Jones-Drew has often been quick to criticise the organization at any opportunity.

With that in mind, we probably should not have been surprised by his latest running back rankings released on Tuesday, but seeing Pro Bowl selection James Conner at No.14 on his list was something of a surprise even for Jones-Drew. His reasoning for the move equally unconvincing.

Ben Roethlisberger is another year older, and Antonio Brown is in Oakland. The Steelers must run the ball early and often, and Conner is their guy, even though recent reports suggest that there will be a committee of backs getting in on the action. He held his own last year -- ranking sixth in the league with 113.1 scrimmage yards per game -- but he’ll have to be better to account for the loss of other weapons. The third-year pro will also get help from a great offensive line.”

New York Giants second-year player Saquon Barkley earns the top spot, while Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints comes in at No.2, while Le’Veon Bell is inexplicably listed at No.3 despite appearing to have spent most of 2018 on a jetski or in a club. Despite leading the league in rushing last season, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott comes in fourth and the league’s highest paid player at the position in Todd Gurley is listed in sixth position.

Among the more shocking names to see ranked ahead of Conner are Aaron Jones (13) of the Green Bay Packers who finished the 2018 season with just 728-yards and 220-yards receiving, Kerryon Johnson (12) of the Detroit Lions who recorded 641-yards rushing and 213-yards receiving before injury ended his season prematurely, and Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (10) with his 615-yards on the ground and 305-yards receiving last year.

By comparison, Conner’s 973-yards rushing, 497-yards receiving and tying for third at the position with 12 touchdowns through 13 games would seem to warrant a bit more credit from Jones-Drew, but that would probably not fit with his agenda.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Player Profile: Ralph Webb

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 8:07am

Taking a look at more players who are just trying to crack the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-man roster.

Two days after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018, the team signed Ralph Webb to their practice squad. Most fans did not notice the move as they were roiling over the tough loss which featured some questionable calls. With starting running back James Conner injured, the team made the move for deep insurance when they promoted Trey Edmunds. That is where Webb remained for the final month of the season.

Webb must have made enough of an impression that after the season they signed him to a reserve/future contract in January. The team elected to keep him around for the offseason due to his production during his college career with the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Webb’s college career was jump-started early while starting every game his redshirt freshman season. While posting arguably the greatest season from a running back in school history, Webb set freshman records with 907 yards rushing on 212 attempts while finding the end zone four times. The numbers are not eye-popping but given that the Commodores play in arguably the toughest rush defense conference in the nation, SEC; the totals are solid. Throw because Vandy was not a good team finishing 3-9 with no wins in the SEC, and his stats are even more impressive.

Following up his initial success, Webb’s sophomore season was even better and the best in school history for a sophomore. Bulldozing his way through his second season for 1,152 yards on 277 carries and five touchdowns Webb ended the season sixth in rushing in the tough SEC. During the season, Webb had the longest rush of his career (74 yards) against Florida which was Vanderbilt’s lone score. Webb had his finest receiving season with 24 receptions for 188 yards and two scores. Solid numbers on a Vandy team that secured only two SEC wins and four total.

While running his streak to 37 consecutive starts, Webb became the Commodores all-time leading rusher during his junior season breaking former NFL running back Zac Stacy’s record. With 1,283 yards on 250 carries, Webb also surpassed Stacey’s single-season mark. Webb posted five rushing touchdowns along with 21 receptions for 166 yards propelling the team to a 6-7 record and only their eighth trip to a bowl game. During the bowl game blowout loss to N. C. State, Webb hit the century mark for the seventh time in his junior campaign.

While continuing to set the all-time rushing yardage mark at Vandy his senior season, Webb set career lows with 192 carries for 831 yards and receptions with just 13. The number totals being down are not surprising when taking into account that Vandy won one SEC game and was blown out in six others. Webb departs the program as the holder of virtually all career rushing marks, including 4,173 rushing yards (145 yards behind Bo Jackson), 931 carries, 32 rushing touchdowns, 35 total touchdowns and 16 games of at least 100 rushing yards. Solid numbers when taking into account the stout conference he played in and the fact the Commodores won six of 32 conference games over his career.

Not invited to the NFL Combine in a surprising snub, he had to impress teams during his pro day. The 5-10, 202-pound running back posted a 4.48 40 time, lifted 27 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press, measured a 36-inch vertical leap and posted a 10-2 in the broad jump.

Even though Webb posted good rushing numbers in college and posted good but not great numbers at his pro day, he went undrafted. He did not last long as an undrafted rookie free agent and was snapped up by the New England Patriots. Buried on the Pats depth chart, Webb needed a spectacular preseason to make the 53 man roster. In four games, one start, he accounted for 102 yards on 32 carries, two rushing touchdowns, five receptions for 28 yards and an additional score. Webb had a banner day against the Redskins in the preseason, rushing for 46 yards, two touchdowns and one, two-point conversion rushing and another receiving.

The preseason was not a good enough performance to crack the 53-man roster but did earn him a spot on New England’s practice squad. The stint on the practice squad last five weeks before he was waived in early October. A street free agent for three weeks, Webb then latched on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Again, his time was short-lived, and he was released three weeks later.

Webb’s Steelers career started the next day when the team added him to their practice squad where he spent the rest of the season. Pittsburgh picked up his reserve/future contract in January and he looks to impress coaches during the offseason and into the preseason.

Webb shows power for his smallish stature and has good vision to find creases in his defense. He will need to use instincts he showed on tape to overcome his deficiencies in the passing game and running too upright if he hopes to latch on in 2019.

Can Webb crack the 53-man roster or land a spot on the practice squad again this season? The first three running back positions may be locked up with Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and 2019 fourth round pick Benny Snell Jr. Will the team carry a fourth? That is something the team has not done since 2015. (Not including 2018 with Bell’s holdout.)

Do you see No. 40 having a shot at the 53-man roster, practice squad, or is he just a camp body?

As it turns out, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t the original Team Turmoil

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 6:56am

Crazy? Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers don’t know real crazy.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, like everyone else who owns, coaches, plays and cheers for the Steelers, told reporters on Sunday that he’s ready for the ‘crazy’ to end as it pertains to his football team.

“You know it’s been a little crazy the last few years, maybe more so than usual that we’re used to dealing with,” said Roethlisberger as he spoke to reporters over the weekend in a quote courtesy of the New York Post. “So to kind of get back to quote-unquote normalcy is kind of nice.”

I have to agree, it is quite nice—this whole normalcy thing.

But while news involving the Steelers has been quite crazy in recent years, has it really been that bad? I know what you’re going to say, “Heck (or another word) yeah!” OK, I’ll give you that, but here’s the thing about bad; here’s the thing about team turmoil, we tend to overreact to a lot of things these days due to social media and, say it with me, the 24/7 news-cycle.

Speaking of Team Turmoil (I used capital T’s this time because this denotes an official name), my co-host on The Hangover, Bryan Anthony Davis, dubbed the Steelers that as far back as two years ago when they were smack-dab in the middle of a whole bunch of crazy (if only 2017 had the ability to see into the future and warn 2018 and the early portion of 2019 and tell them to look the freak out).

Yes, the drama surrounding the current Pittsburgh Steelers has been a bit much (even for me), but I recently watched an episode of A Football Life (A Football Life is an NFL Films produced show about former players/coaches/teams/seasons). The 1993 Houston Oilers were the team chronicled in the particular episode that inspired this article.

The Oilers were a super-talented football team in the late-’80s and early-’90s that boasted some of the NFL’s biggest stars—including future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon and future Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak. The Oilers of those years were constantly in contention for a championship but could never quite get over the hump. I know what you’re going to say, “This sounds an awful lot like the current Steelers.” Does it? I mean, does it, really?

Maybe the statuses of perennial contenders are the same. Maybe the talent is on a somewhat equal basis. But the failures and turmoil? If you think they’re the same, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.

The Oilers made the playoffs seven straight seasons from 1987 to 1993 and not once did they even make it to the AFC title game.

The ‘93 campaign was a particularly damning one for the Oilers, a campaign that was preceded by the biggest collapse in postseason history, when they blew a 35-3 second half lead to the Bills in a wild card loss following the 1992 season.

As for the ‘93 season, I’m trying to remember everything as best I can:

  • The Oilers hired defensive guru (and big-time jerk) Buddy Ryan as the defensive coordinator in the offseason. (The owner, Bud Adams, actually made this hire, and not Jack Pardee, the easy-going (neutered) head coach at the time.
  • Ryan immediately caused a rift between the defense and offense by mocking the Run and Shoot scheme that was employed by offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
  • At training camp that summer, the rift continued, as Ryan would often ignore scripted defensive plays that were requested by Gilbride to, you know, get his offense ready for the regular season. One afternoon, things got so heated between Ryan and Gilbride, the former ordered his entire unit—including players and coaches—into the locker room, while Pardee, the actual boss of training camp and everything else football field-related, did nothing authoritative.
  • As for the season, the Oilers got off to a very bad start and even benched Moon in favor of Cody Carlson.
  • Moon handled the benching so well, he was seen heading to his car one afternoon with his face shielded (you know, like a murder suspect) as reporters tried to pry answers out of him about his benching to a guy named Cody.
  • Moon eventually got his job back, and the Oilers even rebounded to win a lot of games.
  • But not before Ernest Givens, one of Houston’s star receivers, publicly told the always mocking Ryan to f-off (or whatever).
  • And even while the Oilers were winning, they couldn’t avoid controversy, as some offensive lineman made headlines for dividing the locker room in half by skipping out on a regular season game and electing to go home and spend time with his wife during and after she gave birth to their child (Adams, the owner, publicly scolded the lineman through the media).
  • Things were so bad in Houston that year, a local paper actually published an article about the Oilers dysfunction and used a headline titled (I kid you not) Team Turmoil.
  • Tragically, Jeff Alm, a defensive lineman, took his own life after he lost control of his vehicle while driving home from a fun night out with his childhood friend. After he realized that this crash caused the death of his best friend, Alm committed suicide after alerting 911 of the accident.
  • During a regular season finale between the Oilers and Jets, Ryan was so angry at the performance of Gilbride’s offense, the former was seen trying to punch out the latter on the sidelines.
  • Last but not least, the Oilers, AFC Central Division champions and owners of the number two seed and a bye, lost another heartbreaker, this time to the Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs.

To reiterate, this marked the seventh straight year Houston failed to get to within a game of the Super Bowl. Soon, this talented team was dismantled, and within a few years, the Houston Oilers would become the Tennessee Titans, as Adams moved his franchise north to Tennessee.

So what’s my point in all of this? Only that, while the Steelers have had some serious issues, those issues have probably been amplified a great deal due to the modern era.

Twitter beefs really aren’t all that bad when you consider what went down in Houston in ‘93.

The Steelers certainly have some demons to exorcise, but Team Turmoil?

The 1993 Houston Oilers say, “What’s up?”

Podcast: Should the Pittsburgh Steelers extend Mike Tomlin’s contract?

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 5:30am

Mike Tomlin has two years left on his current contract, which is when the Steelers usually extend their head coach. Will they follow suit?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a tough decision on their hands. Head coach Mike Tomlin has two years remaining on his current contract. This is the moment when the organization traditionally looks to extend their head coach and give them a new contract.

While coach’s contracts aren’t always made public, the Steelers have yet to announce a new deal is done — yet.

But this is what brings up the burning question for the day. Should the Steelers extend Tomlin’s contract, or buck the trend and give him a new deal to ensure they won’t have any turnover at the highest level of the coaching ranks.

Plenty has to be deciphered here, and I lay it all out there for the listeners in the latest show...

Check out the show below, and be sure to comment what you think in the comment section below!

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If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: Replacing lost production will be a group effort for the Steelers in 2019

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 4:30am

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With all of the Steelers’ 2019 offseason workouts in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base has to suffer through the dog days of summer until the boys of fall return to the gridon. In the meantime, don’t think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over. As the team disperses for the summer, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until training camp!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at what offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner thinks the offense will have to do to replace the production left by Antonio Brown.

Let’s get to the news:

  • 15 offensive touchdowns is a lot. Well, let me rephrase that. 15 offensive touchdowns is a ridiculous amount of touchdown receptions. Don’t worry fans, offensive coordinator Randy Ficthner has a plan.

Group effort

By: Mike Prisuta, Steelers.com

“What you don’t have to replace is the guy throwing the ball,” Fichtner maintained today, the second day of Mandatory Veteran Minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

The Steelers’ mantra has been and remains “In Ben We Trust,” even with Antonio Brown and Mike Munchak having changed organizations.

But Fichtner also knows quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t and can’t do it alone.

What the Steelers have been working to sort out and will continue trying to establish leading into the regular-season opener on Sept. 8 at New England and beyond is how the new-look offense will compensate collectively.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Filling the void left by Mike Munchak certainly will be a tough test, but if you wanted to promote someone from within, Shaun “Sweet Feet” Sarrett seems to be the man for the job.

‘Sweet Feet’ ready to fill big shoes

By: Mike Prisuta, Steelers.com

Shaun Sarrett may be entering his first season as the offensive line coach of the Steelers, but he’s already made a name for himself.

James Harrison helped see to that before Sarrett had officially joined the Steelers’ staff.

“I’m on my interview and James Harrison, who I played with at Kent State, came in the meeting,” Sarrett explained. “I was sitting in the offensive staff room and I was meeting with Coach (Dick) LeBeau and all them, and (Harrison) came in, he double-looked me and he goes, ‘What the hell is ‘Sweet Feet’ doing here?’ When he said it ‘Coach T’ (Mike Tomlin) grabbed it, he’s like ‘Sweet Feet.’ They found out it was my nickname in college. Believe it or not I actually had really good feet in college, I could go through bags really fast and one of the defensive guys called me ‘Sweet Feet.’ And Harrison, after all these years not seeing me, that’s how he remembered me. He saw my face and was like, ‘Oh, there’s Sweet Feet.’

“It kinda stuck.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Some call it fake, or all for the media, but there is something to be said about the excitement level of many of the Steelers heading into 2019. Ben Roethlisberger chief among them.

Ben Roethlisberger ‘excited’ about Steelers’ offense

By: Kevin Patra, NFL.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers would like to be done answering questions about players that are gone. Ben Roethlisberger, instead, hopes to focus on what the players still in the building bring to the table.

At his youth football camp over the weekend, Big Ben said he’s excited for the group that currently wears the black and yellow.

”I’m excited, I really am excited in what we have,” Roethlisberger told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “We put a lot of work in, that’s what it’s going to take, it’s going to take a team effort. We’re all going to give everything we have and see where it goes. We can’t predict the future, but we can predict we’re going to give everything we have.”

Gone are Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but it’s not as if Big Ben is now playing with scrap meat. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a legit No. 1 receiver. James Conner proved to be a menacing workhorse runner when healthy. Vance McDonald is a bulldozing tight end and reliable target. Free-agent receiver Donte Moncrief has received offseason praise within the building and could finally put together consistency to go with physical talent. Ryan Switzer is a shifty slot that seems to have earned Big Ben’s trust. And it would shock no one if one of the Steelers’ other draft picks at receiver morphs into a playmaker, whether that’s second-year WR James Washington or rookie Diontae Johnson.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie were given a lesson recently, and it had absolutely nothing to do with football.

Rookies learn more than football

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

The group has taken part in “Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie University,” an education like no other that helps them transition from college to the NFL, learning lessons in what NFL players need to know for survival in so many areas.

“It’s just learning what you are about to experience and what could possibly happen,” said first-round pick Devin Bush. “Just getting a beat on how to handle different situations. What to look for when you are setting up your life after football. Certain situations, things you can do to help yourself throughout the process of playing football and after.

“It’s all been a life-learning experience. You learn about what you can and can’t do, the lifestyle you want to live, what kind of person you are.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Social Media Madness

Our leader.#UltimateHighlight | @_BigBen7 pic.twitter.com/pUH222BEBR

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 18, 2019

Week 9, 1975
Bradshaw (16-24-204-2-1) fires a bullet to @Lynn88Swann with :13 left in the half.@francoharrishof 17-119 6-61#Steelers have 420 total yards.
Pittsburgh’s D dominates
28-3 home win for the #Steelers pic.twitter.com/XU0c5Q53ab

— Old Time Football (@Ol_TimeFootball) June 19, 2019

Jack Lambert #Steelers #LBThread pic.twitter.com/CShPWDorj5

— Old Time Football (@Ol_TimeFootball) June 19, 2019

Steelers articles I can only (barely) get away with in the offseason: Jersey Preference and Superstition Edition

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 2:35pm

In the offseason, sometimes anything goes. Join one BTSC writer not afraid to step outside the lines and explore different areas of Steeler fandom. If you want in-depth team analysis, this might not be for you.

It seems like everywhere you go in and around Steeler Nation, somebody is wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey no matter the date on the calendar. However, I grew up in a time when replica jerseys were hard to come by. One of my favorite times of year was when the JC Penney catalog would come out and I’d immediately go towards the back where the NFL youth jerseys were. They’d always have the team name on the front and only one or two players available. At that time, it was typically Terry Bradshaw’s No. 12 or Franco Harris’ No. 32 that you could get in the painted-on printing. Living in Johnstown, the department stores such as Hills or GeeBee’s had a few on hand. The jersey of Jack Ham, a Flood City native, was sold locally and that was my very first Steeler jersey that my parents bought me. So in 1981, I had the perfect Halloween costume. I still have it today. I actually made my son try it on a few years back.

From there my jersey obsession grew, but I was never really able to get any more. In 1993, my cousins Kim and Larry were visiting from Los Angeles and I arranged to take them to Three Rivers Stadium for a Steelers/Browns game. They brought me my first Steelers jersey as an adult. It was No. 14, but Neil O’Donnell’s surname wasn’t on the back of the garment. But people knew what player I was representing. I wore it to that game and was vociferously jeered every single time I moved. I didn’t care. I loved it. It helped prep me for the boos in the comments section I receive weekly in the BTSC comments section. I did try to pass it off as a Todd Blackledge throwback though, but that didn’t really help matters whatsoever.

In the late 90s, Value City was carrying the screen-printed gems and I was all over it for $15. My first one from there was a Yancey Thigpen in 1997, but I got only a few months use out of that before he sauntered off to Music City to become a Tennessee Titan. So in desperate need of new team swag, I paid $50 at the stadium for an away Jerome Bettis at the AFC Championship Game vs Denver. Ouch! Not too long after that, something glorious happened. Value City put a bunch on clearance for $6. Not only could I offset the cost of my inflated Bus garb, I could go crazy and grow my collection. I acquired home and away Kordell Stewarts, a LeVon Kirkland and even a Richard Huntley. If anybody else actually still owns that one, I’d be flabbergasted. My one regret was not buying the No. 56 Mike Vrabel (Yes, the Steelers originally drafted him) jersey that was there. That would have been more rare than my No. 33 honoring the RB from Winston-Salem State.

Through the years and before the wife and kids, I’d pick up a few here and there. I’d get Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, Joey “Peezy” Porter, Fast Willie Parker, Jeff Reed, Alan Faneca, LaMarr Woodley, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller, Antwaan Randle El, James Farrior and Troy Polamalu...but I always wanted to try to go more obscure.

Then I got married and mortgages and baby formula became more pressing to my wife, so I cut back. Then it happened, a guy my sister knew could get knockoffs cheap from overseas. I got my bumblebee Le’Veon Bell, My Batman Antonio Brown, throwback Mike Wallace and a white Brett Keisel from him. Then he screwed me over on a LeGarrette Blount Steelers jersey, among others, and made off with my cash. I guess I shouldn’t be too angry it was just Blount. But I did put a curse on him and sadly (or funny enough) his wife caught him cheating on her, she eventually turned to women and took him for everything. I lost a hundred bucks, but that dude lost a whole lot more. But I digress.

Now, I’ve found a more reliable source for jerseys, and I get them at a great price. That’s why you can see me wearing an LC Greenwood, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, Cameron Heyward, James Conner, Vance McDonald, Maurkice Pouncey, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Big Ben, Stephon Tuitt, (An American Flag-numbered) Ryan Shazier, Sean Davis (same last name) or a T.J. Watt on any given Sunday in different styles. Unfortunately, I whiffed on a few like DeAngelo Williams, Martavis Bryant and Jarvis Jones. \

I think my next purchase is a Rosie Nix in block numbers.

My only jersey superstition is wearing the same color or throwback/Color Rush as the team. I have been known to change mid-game, if the jersey is providing poor results. Yeah, I’m that guy.

Superstitions are funny.

BTSC Editor Jeff Hartman typically only wears Big Ben jerseys. A few years back when the Steelers were set to debut their Color Rush on Christmas Day...I gave him a Color Rush Ben Roethlisberger for Christmas. The Steelers did not start off too well in those jerseys, so he switched, and they won in dramatic fashion. So, my present got a one-way ticket for a trip to the back of the closet. That won’t deter me from getting my friend another gift. He’s legitimately hankering for Landry Jones merch. I may get him a No. 2. Or maybe, just maybe...a No. 40 Ralph Webb.

I once met a woman on a plane that had an away jersey that she wore to the home opener one season. Unfortunately for her, she got a huge blob of mustard on the front of it. But they won, so she refused to wash it the rest of the season. Another I heard were fans retiring jerseys after losing streaks and even, crazy enough, burning them in an exorcism ceremony.

While not football, in 2015 the Pirates played a crucial September game against the Brewers. My good Steeler Central buddy, Mike, was debuting his brand new Pedro Alvarez jersey. The Pirates were trailing and when Pedro came up, my wife ran her hand across the name plate on the back of his jersey. Pedro had a huge hit and RBI. So after that, the phrase “Rub my Alvarez” was born”. It quickly fell off into the abyss. But every time the Alvarez was rubbed, something big happened.

Not everybody is like me and feels the need to keep on buying an inordinate amount of jerseys. Responsible fans save their money for logical things like paying bills and lottery scratch-offs. Most fans have one go-to jersey they proudly sport. Share in the comments your jersey of choice, and your particular Steeler-wear superstitions.

For now I gotta go, I need to search online for my next big purchase, a Daniel McCullers jersey.

ESPN breaks down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ‘above average’ offseason

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 12:49pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a rocky offseason, and ESPN labels it as ‘above average’.

The offseason of 2018 for the Pittsburgh Steelers will be highly regarded as forgettable for most fans of the black-and-gold. The ultimate dismembering of the once powerful ‘Killer B’s’ was on public display, and resulted in blemishes which are tough to forget.

However, when it comes to encapsulating the entire offseason, there was much more that went on other than Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell finding their way to new teams in very different circumstances.

Not only did the Steelers get rid of two headaches which had plagued them longer than just last year, but they also made some moves. They added CB Steven Nelson from the Chiefs, LB/S Mark Barron from the Rams and WR Donte Moncrief of the Jaguars. On top of that, they added nine new players via the 2019 NFL Draft.

So what should fans make of the offseason as a whole? ESPN recently ranked all 32 NFL teams as it pertains to their offseason. They followed a formula which labeled each team in one of the following categories:

  • Elite
  • Above Average
  • Average
  • Too Soon To Tell

Luckily for Steelers fans, the Steelers’ offeseason fell under the ‘Above Average’ category. Take a look at what beat writer Jeremy Fowler had to say about the team’s crazy offseason:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Offseason goals: Cleanse the locker room of headaches, identify supporting players on the edges (receiver, cornerback) and solve the inside linebacker problem once and for all. Receiver Antonio Brown had to go, and now the locker room can focus on cohesion. Receiver Donte Moncrief and cornerback Steven Nelson are reliable free-agent additions at reasonable costs. Trading up for linebacker Devin Bush could give Pittsburgh a defensive leader for the next decade.

Biggest question still to be answered: How do the Steelers replace two All-Pros in Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell? This question dominated Pittsburgh’s offseason, and the answer is found under center. Ben Roethlisberger said he’s excited about his batch of weapons, but the onus is on Big Ben to make it work without two players who dominated the ball. The Steelers need him to have one of his best seasons -- maybe an MVP-type performance -- to re-enter the playoff race. -- Jeremy Fowler

With the dust on the Steelers’ offseason settled, the team turns their attention to the 2019 season. Finally able to put the past behind them, what are your feelings about the Steelers’ offseason? Would you agree it could be labeled as ‘Above Average’, or would you put them in an entirely different category?

Let us know by heading to the comment section and making your opinions heard! And be sure to stay tuned to BTSC throughout the offseason for the best Pittsburgh Steelers news on the web.

Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster the only Steelers included in CBS Top 100 list

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 11:00am

Yet another top 100 list that makes little sense and fails to include some of the league’s better players

In the world of football writing, there is nothing most publications seem to love more than a rankings list. And where fans were once only subjected to pointless top 10 lists that were at least relatively short, the current trend of creating top 100 lists has become a popular offseason past time for several outlets. Designed more to annoy than inform, these list often vary wildly depending upon the outlet and their agenda, while frequently contradicting themselves from year-to-year.

Having already inflicted a number of these list on the BTSC audience this offseason, it seems only fair that readers should suffer along with me after I was unlucky enough to read the latest offering from CBS on Tuesday by Pete Prisco.

A year removed from seeing five players named in his Top 100, the Pittsburgh Steelers are reduced to just two names in 2019 in Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster. And while that number would have been doubled if Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were still a part of the roster, it appears that there is no room for David DeCastro and Cameron Heyward this time around like there was in 2018.

Smith-Schuster is the highest of the two Steelers’ players on the list, coming in at No.45 overall and ranked behind seven other receivers including Brown at No.15. Prisco providing some insightful commentary to accompany his thought process.

JuJu Smith-Schuster - PITTSBURGH STEELERS WR

“He’s now the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver, which will bring on my more scrutiny. I say he handles it well.”

Roethlisberger comes in at No.63 overall, ranked behind eight other quarterbacks and accompanied by a similar level of groundbreaking opinion to explain why he is in exactly the same spot as he was last year despite having led the league in passing in 2018.

Ben Roethlisberger - PITTSBURGH STEELERS QB

“He’s a little lower on this list than some might expect, but he is still capable of carrying the Steelers to a Super Bowl.”

It is difficult to understand what DeCastro did so wrong last season to drop all the way from No.38 to outside the top 100 in 2019. Presumably being part of one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and earning another trip to the Pro Bowl somehow worked against him this time.

Having come in at No.84 after a 12 sacks season in 2018, it is perhaps less surprising to see Heyward outside the top 100 in 2019 following an eight sack year. But those who watched the defensive lineman play would appreciate that he should have been far higher last year and should also have been included this season. How the Los Angeles Chargers ended up with eight players on this list I will never understand.

Chargers WR Keenan Allen suggest 2019 season will be ‘life-changing’ for JuJu Smith-Schuster

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 9:30am

For a man who has never played in Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Charger wide receiver also had some interesting opinions about a certain player in the Steelers locker room.

Even when the Pittsburgh Steelers are not meant to be the topic of conversation for the sports talk shows, it sometimes feels that shows like Undisputed with Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless on FS1 would have nothing to talk about if they did not keep mentioning the Steelers on a daily basis. The latest example of this coming on Tuesday when Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen appeared as a guest.

Given the team that he plays for, it is perhaps understandable that the hosts of the show ran out of things to talk about when it comes to the Chargers and it was not long before the Steelers came up during the conversation. And despite playing seven years for the same team on the other side of the country and only playing Pittsburgh twice in his entire career, it appears that Allen has his own unique insights into some of the personalities on the Steelers roster.

Asked how Antonio Brown will fare in Oakland with Derek Carr at quarterback, Allen suggested that AB would continue to be successful given the Raiders’ talent under center. A quarterback who he believes is very similar to Roethlisberger, if not better.

“But one’s young, no Super Bowls, less ego.”

And when asked how JuJu Smith-Schuster would deal with being the No.1 receiver, Allen had a something of a warning for the young wideout.

“Life-changing, life-changing. It’s gonna be hard to sleep at night trying to find ways to get open. Different routes, different coverages you’ve got to look at. Double teams, double pressures, just everything, the whole game changes. But it’s going to get better for him because he’s just gonna learn and he’s just gonna get more and more experience.”

.@ShannonSharpe: Big Ben, Derek Carr, you see any similarities? @Keenan13Allen: I do, but one is young, no Super Bowls, less ego. pic.twitter.com/ZYfXq8IkXB

— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) June 18, 2019

Glossing over Allen’s gross mischaracterization of Roethlisberger and Carr as being in any way equal in talent and the shot at Big Ben’s personality, it is hard to imagine that anything will keep Smith-Schuster up late at night other than a video game.

The young Steelers receiver has already eclipsed Allen’s best ever season tally in only his second year in the league and it would be fair to question just how many more routes Smith-Schuster can be expected to learn. Having lined up all over the field, it seems likely that the former USC product probably knows more route combination that receivers with far more experience who spend most of their life on the outside.

How quickly Smith-Schuster adapts to being double-teamed most of the time will be the key to his success in 2019, but a number of underrated weapons at the other receiver spots should mean the offense will not falter too much while he learns.

At a time when many teams are abandoning public practices, the Steelers remain traditionalists

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 7:58am

When it comes to how the Pittsburgh Steelers handle training camp, they are one of the last of a dying breed.

If you have ever made the trek to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA in late July, or early August, to get a glimpse of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action, you know how special the experience can be.

Not only can fans line up to get an autograph from their favorite player before and/or after practice, but you get an up-close-and-personal view of exactly what the team is doing at practice.

There is no hiding from this type of exposure, and it is likely one of the reasons why many NFL teams don’t leave their headquarters for training camp anymore. In this regard, the Steelers are one of just a few teams who still pack up and head elsewhere for their preseason camp experience.

However, some NFL teams are taking their confidentiality and secrecy a step further by not only staying at home, but also by limiting the number of practices fans can take in throughout the process.

Just last week the Philadelphia Eagles announced they will have one, yes one, public practice for their fans. Think about that for a second. Meanwhile, the Steelers will have 13 practices at Saint Vincent College, their annual Friday night practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium on August 2 and a family-themed practice at Heinz Field on August 4. While the family-themed practice does come with a fee, the rest are completely free of charge.

But before I make readers feel I am painting a picture of an NFL that doesn’t care about the fans, the Steelers’ fiercest rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, are opening their doors to the fans as well. Although the Ravens don’t travel to McDaniel College in western Maryland like they used to, they are allowing fans to come and take in practices. The Ravens will have 14 of those practices at their practice facility in Owings Mills and the other one will come at M&T Bank Stadium on July 27.

I understand NFL teams being paranoid someone might be filming their practices or keeping an eye on how they are handling their business, there is something to be said about pulling the curtain back for the fans, even if it is just for 15 practices a season.

In this sense, I am glad the Steelers are a team with more of an old school mentality. I know the fans certainly appreciate it.

For the Steelers to improve in 2019, fixing the Special Teams must be a priority

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 6:51am

Diving into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special teams, which will need to improve in 2019.

Our last two articles looked at some of the fundamental terms and concepts employed by the Steelers offense and defense. Today, we turn our attention to that distant relative of the football family who shows up every third Christmas and makes awkward conversation until you’re forced to go hide in the bathroom for twenty minutes. I’m not talking about Cousin Randy. I’m talking about special teams.

Foreign and irrelevant as special teams may seem, the truth is they are incredibly important to the outcome of most football games. For example, in the Steelers week 16 game against New Orleans last season, 29 of the 161 total plays came on special teams. That’s 18%. This number varies a bit in a typical NFL game. On average though, 15-20% of all plays involve special teams. That is not an insignificant number. And yet most fans pay them little attention.

Why is that? Why do so many fans either ignore these units or have no idea how they operate? We love to analyze the intricacies of offensive and defensive schemes - zone blitzes, sweep plays, the 3-4 defense, etc. Why isn’t the same true for special teams?

My personal theory is it’s because special teams occur outside the realm of “normal” football. When we were kids playing pick-up at the local ballpark, we might have had a “kickoff” where someone threw or punted the ball to the other team. But we didn’t literally kick the ball off a tee and set up a legitimate return. We didn’t punt the ball on 4th down. And unless you were like my friend Tim, whose father constructed a real goal post in his backyard, you didn’t kick extra points or field goals (Tim’s Dad also built a wiffle ball field with bases, lines and an outfield fence. I think he had too much time on his hands). Pick-up football, then, was “I-got-this-guy” coverage and drawing up plays in the dirt. It was not the strategic exchange of field position via the kicking game.

And yet special teams can be exhilarating. Kickoffs and punts, especially, involve all of the things that make football great. Speed, physicality, agility, sound fundamentals, complex schemes and the potential for game-changing plays exist every time some glorified soccer player boots the ball into the air. Statistics show that blocked punts and special teams touchdowns are almost as impactful on the outcome of games as turnovers. It would stand to reason, then, that an elite franchise like the Steelers would invest significant time and resources developing great special teams units.

The thing is, we haven’t. In recent seasons, the Steelers have been in the bottom third in the league in several of the most important special teams statistics. Here are a few that underscore just how bad our special teams have been.

DVOA

Some of you may have heard of the statistic “DVOA,” which stands for Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. That’s stat-geek talk for how a team compared to the league average in a particular area. In essence, DVOA measures how far above or below the norm a team is producing. Kansas City, for example, was +34 DVOA for total offense in 2018, best in the NFL. That means the Chiefs were 34% more productive on offense than the league average (the Steelers were 6th at +13). Arizona, meanwhile, was -41, or 41% less productive than the norm. DVOA, then, can be useful in measuring how far above or below the pack a team stands in a particular area.

Special teams DVOA does not automatically correlate to success the way it tends to with offense and defense. Two of the top three leaders in Special Teams DVOA in 2018 were the Jets and the Giants, neither of whom were very good. When you’re bad on offense, as both those teams were, good special teams will not save you.

For better teams, however, a stat like Special Teams DVOA can make the difference between being good and being great. Take the Steelers, who missed the playoffs by the slightest fraction in 2018. One contributor to that narrow miss was their Special Teams DVOA number: -3.5, good for 27th in the league. -3.5% might not seem like a stunning deficiency but it was enough to impact crucial games. Chris Boswell’s two missed field goals in the three-point loss to the Raiders, for example. The fourth quarter punt return touchdown surrendered to San Diego that swung the momentum in that game. The abysmal 31 yard net punting average, including a punt return to the Steelers’ 10 yard line, in the loss to Kansas City. And of course, the failed fake punt gamble in the fourth quarter at New Orleans. Each of these special teams’ shortcomings affected the outcome of a close ballgame that, had the Steelers won any of them, would have given them the AFC North title and a home playoff game.

NET RETURN YARDS

Net return yards measures the actual yards gained or surrendered after punts and kickoffs. In both categories, the Steelers have finished poorly over the past five seasons. Consider:

Punt and kick return yards are the hidden yards in football games that affect field position and alter outcomes. According to Football Outsiders, the average yards per drive for NFL offenses over that same five-year span was 31. A 31 yard drive that begins deep in one’s own territory because of great punt coverage will not amount to points. But if that drive starts near the 40, it likely will. By finishing in the Top 12 in most return yards surrendered in four of the past five seasons (including a dubious #1 in 2015), the Steelers routinely put tremendous pressure on their defense to hold opposing offenses short of that 31-yard-per-drive average.

Conversely, the inability to gain hidden yards in the return game, where the Steelers have been no better than 18th in the past five years, means the offense has to gain more yards per drive than the league average to reach scoring range. In short, bad special teams play is making things harder on both the offense and the defense.

The DVOA and net return yardage numbers depict a special teams unit that needs immediate improvement. Throw in the fact that Boswell and punter Jordan Berry each had dreadful kicking years in 2018 and it becomes clear that, despite the hand-wringing about how we will compensate for the loss of AB on offense and whether the corners are good enough on defense, fixing the special teams might be the key to getting over the hump in 2019.

There’s one potential problem with this: Boswell, Berry and special teams coordinator Danny Smith are all back. It’s not unreasonable, then, to wonder how we’re going to improve. I can’t speculate on how Smith might tweak his schemes but I can look at the personnel available to execute them. That’s a good place to start. What can we say about the lunch-pail guys who typically man these units?

Special teams duty is not glamorous. It does not, relatively-speaking, earn a player a massive paycheck. And, given the speed at which special teams plays move and their open-field nature, it can be dangerous.

Every player who has made it to the NFL has been a star at the lower levels of football. As stars, few participated on special teams. Coaches tend to protect their stars whenever possible, which often eliminates them as candidates. Many of these players are not stars in the NFL, however, and are therefore asked to contribute on special teams. Some see this as beneath them and fail to embrace the duty. Others see it as a ticket to bigger things. Desire, then, often determines their effectiveness as special teams players.

The Steelers have a host of young, hungry players on their roster who likely see special teams duty as a great way to make an impact in the NFL. LJ Fort, Tyler Matakevich, Anthony Chickillo, Jordan Dangerfield and Rosie Nix are all team-first guys with great attitudes and should make good special teamers.

Having hungry players is one thing. What about execution, though? Here is where the Steelers will need to make the biggest strides to improve in 2019.

Take San Diego’s punt return touchdown against us last season. This play did not suffer from a lack of effort; it suffered from poor athleticism and fundamentals. Here is the GIF in its entirety, then we’ll break it down to see what went wrong:

There are several problems here. First, in the image below, we see the moment Jordan Berry makes contact with the football (circled). At that moment, every Steeler interior player is at least two yards deep in the backfield and none are in the process of a clean release (LJ Fort is working to disengage here, but there are two Charger blockers waiting on him once he does).

This is problematic because it delays the coverage unit from getting downfield. It also puts tremendous pressure on the gunners to make an open-field tackle. No San Diego player is anywhere close to blocking this punt as the Chargers are in a “hold-up” technique, trying to delay the Steelers at the line of scrimmage as long as possible to set up a return. The Steelers interior players need to recognize this and get a quicker release.

Speaking of the gunners, let’s look at the first man down in coverage, Darius Heyward-Bey. I admire DHB for how he transitioned from a high first round draft pick to a special teams ace when he didn’t excel as a receiver. That transition shows the unselfish, team-first mentality you want from special teamers. Unfortunately, DHB did a poor job on this particular play.

In the images below, we see return man Desmond King catch the ball at his own 27 yard line. DHB is about four yards away from him. He has beaten Jeremy Cox, the man assigned to block him, and Cox has no choice but to block DHB in the back should he re-engage. Thus, DHB should immediately break down and get into position to tackle.

He doesn’t. As you can see below, he runs right through King, who sidesteps him and makes him miss.

Once King is past DHB, look at the running lane he has. Tyler Matakevich (labeled as ‘1’) and LJ Fort (‘3’) are both being walled off by their blockers while Rosie Nix (‘2’) is no match in space for the athletic King.

Once football becomes an open-field fire drill, conditions favor the more athletic group. San Diego’s punt return team is more athletic than the Steelers’ punt team. The result is six points for the opposition.

A host of issues doom this play, then: the late release by the coverage team; the failure of DHB to get into adequate tackling position; Matakevich and Fort failing to disengage from their blocks in time; Nix being unable to tackle in space; and finally, as you can see on the film, the failure of second-level guys like Terrell Edmunds and Jordan Dangerfield to squeeze the football (FWIW, it’s tough to tell if there is a block in the back on the second gunner here, who shows in the GIF just after Hey-Bey. I watched it over and over and still wasn’t sure. If it’s not totally clear, the refs shouldn’t throw a flag. And even if they do, our issues with fundamentals still exist).

You don’t want to cherry-pick one play and use it to criticize the special teams in general. But the results, or lack thereof, speak for themselves. For the Steelers to improve in 2019, desire won’t be the key to success. Athleticism and execution will.

From an athletic standpoint, having players like Matakevich and Nix on the punt team seems questionable. They are tough, blue-collar guys but lack agility. Ulysees Gilbert, should he make the roster, would be a significant upgrade. Should Gilbert flash on special teams this pre-season, it might spell the end of Dirty Red’s time here. Both Gilbert and Sutton Smith should be given every opportunity to stick as special teams players.

Fellow rookie Justin Layne should be considered for punt team duty in the gunner’s role that DHB occupied. Layne is not as fast as DHB but he is bound to be a better open-field tackler. Fellow corners Cam Sutton or perhaps AAF-signee Kameron Kelly should be considered as gunners, too. Sacrificing the speed of a wide receiver for the tackling ability of a DB would be a wise exchange.

In the return game, Ryan Switzer is reliable but lacks the explosiveness to make big plays. Diontae Johnson seems like a great candidate to mix in with Switzer as a punt returner. He returned just 17 punts in college but averaged 20.2 yards per return and brought two back for touchdowns. It’s a small sample size but the numbers are exceptional.

As for the kickers, I’m of the opinion that Boswell will revert more towards his 2017 form and not that of the jittery and inconsistent player we saw last year. He was just too good to fall apart permanently. Jordan Berry, on the other hand, is not a very good professional punter. The hope here is he either improves on his hang time, his directional kicking or is simply beaten out by someone better in training camp.

The greatest burden in all of this falls on the shoulders of the coordinator, Danny Smith. Smith has been coaching special teams at the pro level for over twenty years. It’s safe to assume his schemes are sound. The question is, can he gets his players to execute them? To do so, he must become a meticulous and disciplined task-master who drills his units until they can perform in their sleep. Mike Tomlin must assist him in this regard by making special teams a priority in practice so players treat it as an equal third of the game and not as something that happens between offense and defense.

An infusion of athleticism should help these units. And the odds are decent that Boswell will bounce back. But the sense of urgency with which Tomlin treats the special teams and the ability of Smith to get them to execute will go a long way towards determining how a promising Steelers squad fares in 2019.

Podcast: Deciphering fact from fiction as it pertains to the 2019 Steelers

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 5:30am

In a brand new show titled ‘Yeah, I said it’, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It is the offseason websites like this one have to focus on keeping their content coming. The only problem with that is there is hopefully no news. In other words, the only real news which comes out of an NFL team’s headquarters is normally of the negative variety.

With that said, there are times when content becomes misconstrued and fans don’t really know what is true or false. What is fact or fiction?

Armed with a list of topics, the latest podcast by Lance Williams dives into Fact or Fiction, and deciphering the difference between the two, as the Steelers now prepare for the 2019 regular season.

This is where the newest BTSC podcast “Yeah, I Said It” comes in. My co-host on ‘The Standard is the Standard’, Lance Williams, talks about some Fact or Fiction when it comes to the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Lance is the perfect man for the job, and delivers the goods in the latest show.

Check out the audio below:

Feel free to give us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow us on all our audio platforms by following the links below:

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Black and Gold Links: Why the Pittsburgh Steelers should definitely extend Mike Tomlin’s contract

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 4:30am

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With all of the Steelers’ 2019 offseason workouts in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base has to suffer through the dog days of summer until the boys of fall return to the gridon. In the meantime, don’t think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is from over. As the team retreats for the summer, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until training camp!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at why the Pittsburgh Steelers definitely should be looking to extend Mike Tomlin’s contract sooner than later.

Let’s get to the news:

  • It has been far too long since the Steelers have been in a Super Bowl, and fans are frustrated. Many want the team to make a change at head coach, but there are also those who think the Steelers should extend Mike Tomlin’s contract as soon as possible.

Analysis: The case for a Tomlin extension

By: Dale Lolley, DKPittsburghSports

Mike Tomlin’s salary situation is one that leaves few people sitting on the fence. People either think Tomlin is doing a good job or they think he’s long past his expiration date and should have been fired.

Fact is, however, it’s a multi-layered situation with Tomlin’s contract. As things currently stand, Tomlin has two years remaining on a deal that is paying him an estimated $7 million per year.

We estimate because NFL coaching salaries aren’t exactly public knowledge. Some contract information does leak out on occasion about coaching salaries, but unlike the players, whose salaries are governed by the salary cap, there is no ceiling on what a franchise can spend on its coaches.

That $7 million per year puts Tomlin seventh among NFL coaches in terms of compensation, behind Bill Belichick, Jon Gruden, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Ron Rivera and Andy Reid.

The Steelers have typically given their head coach a contract extension with two years remaining on his deal. Some would argue Tomlin isn’t deserving of that. But digging deeper shows Tomlin compares quite favorably with his coaching peers not named Belichick and, in fact, is deserving of an extension.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Some think Devin Bush, despite his elite speed and athleticism, is too small to play inside linebacker in the NFL. Obviously, Bush disagrees.

Tim Benz: Steelers’ Devin Bush insists he’s big enough for NFL

By: Time Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Steelers realized where offense was going in the NFL, even if they may have been guilty of trying to counter with the traditional 3-4 defensive sensibilities longer than they should’ve.

In at least one area, though, the team tried to keep up with the curve. They knew offenses were becoming pass-happy, especially against them and their usual stout run defense. That realization was even occurring toward the end of the Bill Cowher era.

They have been looking for athletic, sideline-to-sideline, pass-defending, three-down, speed-oriented inside linebackers for a while now.

They just can’t keep them healthy. First, it was Sean Spence in 2012, who was lost to catastrophic knee injury in his rookie preseason. Then it was Ryan Shazier’s spinal injury after he emerged as a Pro Bowler.

Now it’s Devin Bush’s turn to attempt to drag that position for the Steelers into the modern age.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • 2019 is a crucial year for a pair of Pittsburgh Steelers defenders.

Steelers 2-a-days: Pivotal year for both Ola Adeniyi, Brian Allen

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

OLB OLA ADENIYI

Experience: 2nd season

Contract status: $575,000 cap hit in 2019, signed through 2020 season

2019 outlook: Said by some as a clone of James Harrison because of his size, style and MAC-alumnus status, Adeniyi might be one of the roster’s biggest sleepers. After a 2018 season as an undrafted rookie that was lost mostly to injury, the No. 4 OLB job (behind starters Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt and top backup Anthony Chickillo) in 2019 is seemingly Adeniyi’s to lose.

To read the full article, click HERE

Alejandro Villanueva on Mike Hilton: Betting on yourself usually works

By: Josh Alper, ProFootballTalk

Players in that position rarely wind up landing new deals, but Hilton doesn’t have to look far to find one that did. Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva got a four-year, $24 million deal in 2017 when he refused to sign his ERFA tender. Villanueva continued to work out with the team and has spoken to Hilton about his situation this offseason.

The nature of those talks hasn’t been disclosed, but Villanueva said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, that “betting on yourself, in this business, usually works.”

“You don’t want to have a guy in the locker room who’s not happy with his contract, especially when he has the backing of his teammates,” Villanueva said. “He’s been about it the right way. He’s shown up every single day, not making it a big deal. For that, he gets a lot of respect from all of us.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Social Media Madness

Because we're 8️⃣2️⃣ days away from #SteelersKickoff. pic.twitter.com/wHlta3ggTZ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 18, 2019

#HEEEATH pic.twitter.com/czcY8UXmDH

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 18, 2019

Mike Wagner has 3 INT’s in the final 20 minutes.
Tommy Cassanova has 2 picks for the #Bengals #Steelers hold on for a 20-13 win pic.twitter.com/2YVekVPT34

— Old Time Football (@Ol_TimeFootball) June 16, 2019

Why are there so few women involved in draft coverage?

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 2:53pm

Some of the talented women from SB Nation’s team brands weigh in.

Women of SB Nation is a series featuring our talented team brands contributors and seeks to elevate voices that are often marginalized in sports media. If you’re interested in contributing to one of our team brands, please review our opportunities here under SB Nation Freelance, or reach out to jeanna.thomas@sbnation.com for more information.

Cristiana Caruso covered the 2019 MLB Draft for SB Nation’s MLB Daily Dish, and one moment of her experience was a perfect metaphor for women’s current place in the draft analysis landscape.

“I couldn’t find my seat at the table, where my assigned seating was, and I was just really panicked, because I felt like everyone was staring at me,” Caruso said. “I felt like everyone turned to look at me when I walked in, and it was just like, oh, my God, the pressure’s on.”

Women’s voices are becoming a bigger part of the sports conversation, but there’s still a huge divide between the number of men in the sports media industry compared to women. One area where this stands out is draft coverage. When Caruso did find her seat at the MLB Draft, she was one of just four women in the room.

Draft analysis is a different beast. Breaking down a player’s film and being able to identify their tendencies and then project how those will play at the next level is fundamental. Many women haven’t played sports at a level where breaking down film is a necessary part of the game, so this creates a barrier. Throw in the extra scrutiny women face in sports media, and it makes it more challenging for women to find their voice in the draft analysis realm. That’s how it’s been for Alexis Chassen, who covers Ohio State for Land-Grant Holy Land and the Eagles for Bleeding Green Nation.

“With the draft and scouting players being so subjective, there’s a lot of push back if you make a bad prediction, especially if that player ends up being a bust,” Chassen said. “There’s already so many people quick to criticize women in sports ... so feeling confident in making declarative statements regarding draft picks is something I personally, at least, struggle with.”

Of the big four pro sports — NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL — only basketball and hockey consistently present opportunities for women to play the game competitively at any level. That stands out to Stephanie McCarroll from SB Nation’s 49ers team brand, Niners Nation.

“More than most other professional sports, football has the fewest opportunities for women to play the game -- and that leads to a lot of ‘How do you know? You never played,’ bad-taking by readers,” McCarroll said.

Add to that a general reticence to take female sports journalists seriously, and making one’s mark on the draft landscape becomes even more daunting. Caruso experienced this after a reader complimented the MLB Daily Dish draft coverage, from “(site manager) Eric (Cole) and all of his guys over there,” on Twitter.

“Yeah, basically, he was like, ‘his guys,’ Caruso said. “And I was like, ‘I’m a girl,’ and he was like, ‘Well, what are you really contributing?’

“And I was like, ‘Whoa, wait, I thought you just said we did a great job, and now suddenly that I have different chromosomes, I’m not doing as good of a job? I’m really confused right now.’”

We spoke to several of the talented women who write for SB Nation’s team brands about the lack of female draft analysts for all of the major U.S. pro sports and what we can do to carve out a space for women in draft analysis.

We need more women in leadership roles in professional sports

There’s progress being made, but it’s slow going. Right now, there are just a handful of women in leadership positions in pro sports. But those women on NFL sidelines, coaching up NBA players, playing professional hockey, or scouting for Major League Baseball teams are steering us in the right direction.

“There are definitely barriers that exist for women that don’t exist for men,” said Micah Allen, who runs SB Nation’s Oklahoma State team brand, Cowboys Ride for Free.

“There is still a lot of work to do when it comes to equality. Women struggle to be taken seriously as reporters still,” Allen said. “You make just one mistake and the entire fan base of a team is against you. I think this will change with getting more and more women involved in football in general.”

We’re seeing that happen now, with female coaches along with women representing big-name players like 2018 first rounder Saquon Barkley and 2019 No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams.

Rebecca Lawson, who runs SB Nation’s Dallas Mavericks team brand, Mavs Moneyball, thinks more women in these roles will help normalize women’s voices in sports.

“They have a few really prominent female coaching voices in the NBA these days, and that’s a trend that’s been, from everything I’ve seen, very welcomed by the players and the organizations — I won’t say the fans, because there are always those assholes on Twitter who … are always those assholes on Twitter,” Lawson said. “But by and large, at least, in the NBA community, I’ve seen from the intelligent people who talk about the NBA, that’s a welcome trend. And I think part of that does come from the access to WNBA and where they’ve been playing and have that experience, that competition, that they can then go to the players.

“If you want to think about it that way, I do see it as a good analogy for there being more paths in general in the NBA for women’s voices, not only in draft analysis, but just in every aspect of the game.”

Professional women’s hockey is also creating more opportunities for visibility, both in media and in front offices.

“Right now, we are starting to get more professional female hockey players who are getting a chance to go on and do commentary on games or doing the intermission reports and stuff, so we’re starting to see more women who have played the game at a high level give their opinions,” Sarah Avampato from our Kings site, Jewels from the Crown, said. “And of course, there’s still always going to be that segment of fans who are like, ‘I don’t want to hear a woman talking about sports on my television.’”

Big names in sports media like ESPN’s Mina Kimes are also helping to pave the way for women in sports journalism in general.

(Mina) Kimes’ interview with Aaron Rodgers a year ago was groundbreaking in opening doors as well; Rodgers doesn’t open up much, and him choosing to do so with her specifically made a statement,” Melissa Triebwasser from our TCU site, Frogs O’ War, said. “And that’s what it’s going to take -- prominent players, coaches, etc., putting trust in and giving opportunities to female reporters, allowing those voices exclusivity that ensures people will go to them specifically for information.”

Women in sports have to support each other

Even with women earning more visibility in sports media, coaching, agency, and other leadership roles, it’s discouraging to hear well known men in sports media complaining about more women in sports. Longtime New York sports radio host Mike Francesca is one of them, and he’s had some archaic things to say about women in coaching positions.

“Not everybody is attuned or designed to do every single job,” Francesa said, not in 1957, but in 2017. “And as we move forward there’s no saying that everybody has to be able to do every single job. Some are better for some people, that’s all. That’s not being chauvinistic. That’s not being stone-aged. That’s just being reasonable. I’m just looking at this with some modicum of common sense.”

Any woman who’s written about sports on the internet has almost certainly been told to “get back in the kitchen” at least once. I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade, and I’ve probably received that response thousands of times, and that’s a conservative estimate. Not everyone is going to like what women have to say about sports, but that shouldn’t slow us down.

“When I and many other women show knowledge about the draft, it is often met with surprise. Apparently, because I have a uterus, it is completely astonishing that I can explain the difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense,” McCarroll said. “So, while support from male writers and athletes is great, we need to have confidence in our own work and not be afraid to voice our opinions.”

Part of the hesitation to embrace analysis from women is the idea that women haven’t played the game. It’s an unfair criticism.

“I think there’s an old, tired rhetoric of ‘Well, you didn’t play the game; how could you know,’ type of deal,” Caruso said. “Well, 90 percent of these people (commenting) didn’t play the game — how can they know? But for some reason, women, there’s a higher bar. It’s like you have to prove yourself, and sign a blood oath, and it feels like there are so many people who want to say, ‘Nope, stop right there,’ and gate-keep knowing baseball at such an intimate level.”

That sentiment is also common in NHL circles.

“It’s a lot of random men being like, ‘How can you tell me who this prospect is? You didn’t play; you don’t know how good he is or how hard the game is,’” Avampato said. “Well, you didn’t play, either. I checked the NHL site; you don’t have a bio on there.”

Traditional gender roles and the expectations they carry impact women in professional sports across the board. Caruso spoke with Kelly Rodman, a scout for the Yankees, at the draft, and Rodman shared the scrutiny she faces in her role because of her gender.

“She was like, ‘I don’t think people understand that as a female, but also a scout, I’m away from my family for months at a time. And I get really criticized about that because I’m a woman away from my family, but all these men who are away from their families, yes, it’s hard on them, too, but nobody’s criticizing them as harshly,’” Caruso said.

Those same perceptions of gender roles work against women in draft coverage. Patti Curl covers the Chicago Bears for Windy City Gridiron, and she explained why that can hold women back in the draft field.

“To some extent, credibility in the draft world is measured by how loudly and confidently someone can state their opinion,” Curl said. “Certainly women are capable of loudly and confidently defending our opinions, but it’s not a quality that’s encouraged as often in women as it is in men. Add to that the issue many of us have encountered that male fans are less inclined to trust a female analyst, and it’s not surprising that it’s a field few women have succeeded in.”

Representation matters, and elevating women’s perspectives on draft coverage can attract and engage more female fans. Kathleen Noa, who writes for The Phinsider, SB Nation’s Miami Dolphins site, said that support from female readers has helped build her confidence.

“I was approached to start writing for an NFL fan site because of my passion for this sport and because they wanted a female perspective,” Noa said. “I was very anxious when I first started and was afraid I would be judged and laughed at because I’m a woman. I never played football, so what would I know? My confidence grows each week because other women have reached out to tell me they appreciate my views and love the fact there is a female perspective instead of just men.”

And progress is still being made. As I was making edits to this piece, the Cavs announced the hire of Lindsay Gottlieb as an assistant coach. Every expansion of female influence in professional sports opens the door a bit more for women who want to dive into draft analysis.

Don’t be afraid to make your own space in draft coverage

Why would women even want to jump into draft coverage considering all of the extra scrutiny and barriers female analysts face?

“I love talking to players because the same rhetoric I hear every single time I interview a kid that’s about to get drafted, is, ‘My entire life has led up to this,’” Caruso said. “And it’s like, you have what someone has spent countless weekends, countless summers, thousands of dollars in equipment and training and so on, for this one moment.

“And what I love about the MLB Draft, too, that you kind of get different from the NFL and the NBA drafts since they’re only a few rounds, it’s kind of more hyped up. You could get a kid who goes in the 10th round, in the eighth round, and they come out a hidden superstar. Your placement in the draft doesn’t predict at all what you’re going to be.”

For Avampato, it gives her an opportunity to help fans look past the present and be hopeful about what the Kings’ future holds.

“Prospects and draft coverage have always interested me, because it gives you a chance to envision what your team will look like in the future,” Avampato said. “My background, too, education-wise is I have a degree in psychology, and I’m always fascinated as to what makes people tick. And sometimes the prospect stage is really fascinating for that, because you get to see how these 17, 18, 19-year-old kids respond under pressure and deal with adversity and who’s stepping up already as a leader and he’s only 17. You get to see a little glimpse of what kind of man they’re going to turn into.”

There are women doing amazing things right now in the draft and prospect analysis space. Emily Waldon of The Athletic not only focuses on minor league prospects, but also the pay inequality they face despite being a part of a billion-dollar industry. Hannah Stuart is one of the lone female voices in NHL draft analysis. Her work is excellent, but according to her Twitter bio, she’s not under contract with any outlet to produce it. Melissa Jacobs of The Football Girl has a running list of women who provide quality NFL Draft analysis (including our own Alexis Chassen) on her site, though it’s not terribly long.

For women who want to dive into draft analysis, the knowledge and passion are there. They just need opportunities.

“For many of us female sports writers, we have loved sports even when they did not love us,” McCarroll said. “Even when sports tell us we do not belong. We persevere. We love the game although there is a constant feeling of always trying to prove ourselves.”

The best advice for women who are interested in draft analysis, or sports journalism in general, came from Kelly Rodman, via Caruso.

“(She) basically said to me, ‘One of the best things we can do in this field is to make our own space and make ourselves present and not be afraid to take up that space,’” Caruso said.

And that, at its core, is what it will take to elevate women’s voices in draft analysis.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Player Profile: Tegray Scales

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 12:35pm

Taking a look at the players searching for a spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-man roster.

Tegray Scales is yet another relatively unknown player on the Pittsburgh Steelers 90-man roster, it is not the fans that need to know his name; it is the coaching staff. Scales has been trying to make a name for himself at OTAs and minicamp, hoping to see reps during the preseason where he can try to prove his worth.

The 6’0”, 230-pound Scales played his collegiate ball for the Indiana Hoosiers out of the Big Ten Conference. His college career started off on the right foot when Scales started all 12 games his freshman season. The former Scout four-star recruit racked up 46 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and three interceptions. Solid numbers for a true freshman in a BCS conference. The performance earned scales many accolades which include 247Sports.com True Freshman All-American, second team Scout.com Freshman All-American, and BTN.com and 247Sports.com All-Big Ten Freshman.

Scales’ sophomore season got off to a rocky start when he was suspended for the first two games of the season for disciplinary reasons. Even though he played in fewer games (One start) his production increased tallying 64 total tackles, five for loss, three sacks and two interceptions.

During his junior year, Scales made a name for himself on the national scene with 125 total tackles, 24 for loss, 7 sacks, one interception (Pick-6), and one forced fumble. In nine contests Scales racked up double-digit tackles, tops in the Big Ten and third nationally which included a streak of six in a row. His 13 stops helped secure an upset win over No. 17 ranked Michigan St., a new career high for a single game. Postseason honors included, SI.com second team All-American, second-team All-Big Ten (media), Foster Farms Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player, and IU Male Athlete of the Year. Scales became the first linebacker from Indiana since 1987 to earn All-American honors.

Scales forwent declaring for the NFL and returned for his senior season. During his last season with Indiana, productivity dipped. The 2017 performance was still a solid season with 89 total tackles, 12.5 for loss, six sacks, two fumble recoveries. And two interceptions. Scales performance still earned him First-team All-Big Ten (media) honors.

At the NFL combine, Scales posted a sluggish 4.77 forty time to go along with a solid 27 bench press reps but a hamstring injury prevented him from taking part in many other events. At 230 pounds and running a poor 40 time was all teams needed to keep his name from being called during the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Los Angeles Rams took a flier on Scales and brought him in as an undrafted rookie free agent but he did not make the 53-man roster. The Rams did not sign him to a practice squad spot, and neither did any other team until the Indianapolis Colts did so in December. Scales was released two weeks later.

On January 4, 2019, Scales Steelers career started when he signed a reserve/future contract.

Scales will need to showcase his sound read and react ability along with his adequate coverage skills to overcome his lack of wrap up tackling ability, along with his lack of speed, if he wants to get noticed by the Steelers staff.

While watching tape on Scales, he reminded me of Tyler Matakevich with a high motor, but limited speed with better coverage ability. Scales will have to show his worth not only on defense but also on special teams like Dirty Red has if he is to crack the 53-man roster or be offered a spot on the practice squad. It may boil down to a numbers game for No. 46 if he hopes to make the 2019 squad.

How many inside linebackers will the Steelers keep, four or five? Three of those spots should be locked up between free agent acquisition Mark Barron, veteran Vince Williams, and 2019 first round selection Devin Bush, but who else is in the running? Matakevich has been solid on special teams, but a liability while filling in on defense. The Steelers 2019 sixth round class, Ulysses Gilbert and Sutton Smith (I project him as an ILB, not OLB) are not guaranteed of anything with their late-round selection. Fan favorite and 2018 preseason darling, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi finished the 2018 season on the Steelers 53-man roster will also be in the mix.

Five players could vie for a single roster spot. Do you think Scales makes it or is he with the Steelers as a warm camp body?

Danny Smith already confident Chris Boswell has regained his Pro Bowl form

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 11:00am

With training camp still more than a month away, the Steelers special teams coach believes his troubled kicker is already back to being the player he once was.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers decision to move back the due date of Chris Boswell’s 2019 roster bonus until after the final preseason game of the year was a clear sign of the doubts they have about their Pro Bowl kicker, it would appear that not everyone in the organization has lost faith in him.

Indeed, in light of the comments of his special teams coach during mandatory minicamp reported by Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there is every chance that Boswell would already have received his $2 million roster bonus this offseason had the financial decisions been left up to Danny Smith.

“I don’t want to go into last year. That’s not for the public, what we discuss. It obviously was off, and it wasn’t acceptable. We’ve made corrections, and we’ve worked hard at it together. I’ve seen a great deal of improvement. I’m of the mindset that he’s the guy we had two years ago. Right now, that seems like what we got. We’ll see when we get into the team settings.”

Considering that Smith seemed unaware that anything was off with Boswell last year until the season began, it would be understandable if fans were less than confident in his current evaluation of his kicker at this point in the offseason. However, it appears that just 10 days of OTAs and three days of minicamp have been more than enough to significantly impact how Smith feels about his kicker after a disastrous season.

“Obviously, we need an improvement there. He’s been very good in the OTAs. It has to carry over into the team settings. We put him in team settings, and he’s responded. We know what he’s capable of, and that’s a positive. We have to get back to what he was capable of. That’s where we’re headed.”

Stopping short of naming him the starting kicker before training camp has even begun, it seems that Matthew Wright will need to go above and beyond if he is to convince Smith he is the right man for the job this season.

“You’ll know it when I know it. We’ll see that together. When we get in those critical situations, you’re not going to have to ask me. You’re going to know, and I’m going to know. If he hits that game-winner like he did, he hits those long ones like he did, if he’s banging balls, you’re not going to come looking for me. But once that [ball] goes wide right, and we lose 19-17, you come looking for me.”

But if turns out the Steelers made a mistake in keeping Boswell over Wright once the real games begin, some might suggest that the kicker should not be the only one being shown the door.

Ben Roethlisberger enjoying Steelers return to ‘normalcy’ after ‘crazy’ few years

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 9:30am

After the departure of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, the sense of calm emanating from the Steelers locker room this offseason is impossible to ignore.

After two years full of drama, the 2019 offseason has been positively calming by comparison and anyone who has followed the team throughout OTAs and minicamp cannot help but notice a much greater sense of harmony emanating from the locker room this offseason.

Without wanting to place all of the blame for the dysfunction of past seasons on Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, it is impossible to ignore how team chemistry appears to have been impacted by the loss of two strong personalities with their own specific agendas. The notion of improvement by subtraction seemingly playing out well in Pittsburgh.

And when speaking to reporters at his Youth Football game over the weekend, it was clear that Ben Roethlisberger was enjoying the change in atmosphere around the team this offseason.

“It’s been a little crazy the last few years, maybe more so than usual that we’re used to dealing with. To kind of get back to quote unquote normalcy is kind of nice.”

From his football camp, Ben Roethlisberger said he’s excited about new weapons and looks forward to ‘normalcy’ with the Steelers after a ‘crazy’ few years. pic.twitter.com/SmkjViwio8

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 16, 2019

After months of hearing about Brown and Bell in the media on an almost daily basis and an endless succession of former teammates talking about the Steelers on television, the uproar surrounding the team is slowly starting to die out. And while there are certain networks who seem intent on keeping the story alive as best they can, the national media appear to have moved on to the Cleveland Browns as the hot topic in AFC North.

But despite the doubts of the experts, Big Ben is still confident about the season ahead.

“I’m excited, I really am excited about what we have. You know we’ve put a lot of work in and that’s what it’s going to take, it’s going to take a team effort. We’re all going to give everything we have and see where it goes. We can’t predict the future, but we can predict that we’re going to give everything we have.”

If the Steelers can keep this same positive attitude running throughout the regular season, reports of their demise may yet prove to be somewhat premature.

Will the Steelers offense become a run-heavy offense in 2019?

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 8:06am

With Antonio Brown now gone, could the Steelers throw it back a few decades to when they were a run-heavy offense?

It’s a good question. NFL football analysts have been debating this, as well as fantasy football analysts. Actually, fantasy analysts have been leading the charge on this question this offseason more so than anybody else, and kudos to them.

And to that, let me give a brief shout-out to the fantasy analyst/player.

Fantasy players are often labeled as geeks to the mainstream NFL media, so absorbed in their own little game-inside-a-game that they play. But, fantasy players are often more attuned to the game than given credit, as they look for little edges here and there so they can win their “geek” fantasy titles (and cash).

Winning week to week in fantasy means knowing whether a team’s defense is susceptible to the pass or the run, on whether their WR is facing a weak secondary or individual CB matchup, knowing if their star QB is facing rough sledding in their weekly matchup, or choosing who to start if their stud RB is mired in a bad matchup while their less talented RB is facing a cakewalk.

So, it is not surprising that during this offseason the fantasy world is trying to find that drafting edge with respect to the Steelers offense, and the changes, if any, from last year sans Antonio Brown.

To them, the question of whether the Steelers become more run dependent weighs heavily on their decision to reduce expectations from Ben Roethlisberger more than anything else. Ju Ju Smith-Schuster is a shoo-in as target hog with Mr. Big Chest gone.

But, forgetting those fantasy folks and returning to real football, what of Big Ben and the Steelers offense? Will the Steelers change philosophy this season with the loss of Antonio Brown?

It stands to reason that the Steelers may look at last season and decide to return to smash mouth football. They led the NFL in pass attempts per game (43.1) in what was a successful “fantasy” season, but not so successful in the actual NFL. Roethlisberger put up fantastic stats, but led them to only nine wins and a 2-4 finish.

They missed the playoffs.

Leading the NFL in passing attempts per game led them nowhere but to an early trip to the golf course. It’s hard to think that the Steelers brass won’t see that as a sign to become less dependent on Big Ben’s arm, especially with the loss of their HOFer and sometimes-jerk wide receiver.

There are not bad reasons for this thinking.

The Steelers running game seems stacked in spite of the loss of another sometimes-jerky player, running back Le’Veon Bell. But, Bell is far in the rearview mirror having not played a down for the team last season. Listening to many talking heads, you’d think Bell was leaving the team this season. But, they have already moved on without missing much of a beat, if any.

They’ve actually added several beats to replace his.

James Conner looked like a new man last season, having shed weight and the unfortunate health concerns he heroically prevailed from. He was a different player than the one who tested at the NFL combine a year earlier. More burst and quickness. To make the city of Pittsburgh practically forget about the “Bell situation” is quite a testament to his Pro Bowl season.

Add Jaylen Samuels to the mix, who has even more athleticism than Conner, and you’ve got to like his chances for improvement with a year of NFL training under his belt, and the addition of his old college running back coach to his corner.

This is not Isaac Redman or Fitzgerald Toussaint that the Steelers have backing up their main guy. This is a talent that can push for the starting job, and certainly for more looks on the field.

Even more, the Steelers said goodbye to fumble prone just-a-guy Stevan Ridley and look to have a keeper in Benny Snell Jr. He still has to prove he can do it in the NFL, but he has the upside to be a guy that you can depend on to keep Conner fresh, if not push for carries on his own right. He’s got the bruising style the Steelers love and always seem to look for.

Not since the brief stay of Deangelo Williams have you felt so comfortable with the Steelers running back depth.

That the strength of the team is their offensive line only adds further credence to the argument that the Steelers will lean more on their running game. In what is pretty much unheard of in today’s NFL, the nucleus of the Steelers line has stayed intact and played at a high level for years. Led by Maurkice Pouncey and David Decastro, it looks strong despite the Steelers biggest offseason loss – Mike Munchak.

To add further reason to think the Steelers will return to the 1990s and run more, it is very possible the Steelers defense improves. You only had to be a casual fan of the team to see the immediate drop in play of the Steelers defense when they lost Ryan Shazier. Not only was he magnificent, but his replacements were sub-par, and that’s being kind.

Like Snell, Devin Bush has yet to prove it on the field, but you have to like his chances with his supreme athleticism to immediately improve play in the middle of the Steelers defense. Reports have all been thumbs-up on him so far. With his sideline-to-sideline capability, it should make the whole defense substantially better. With some other additions, and some already capable players, it stands to reason that the defense will progress.

With a better defense, there will be less reliance on Big Ben having to “throw” the Steelers back into games, and more reason to believe the Steelers running game will be taking the air out of the football in the second half, running out the clock.

So, do I think the Steelers will become run heavy? NOT REALLY! At least not to what some people have predicted.

This is the day and age of the pass in the NFL. The statistics being put up are Madden-worthy. With defensive backs not even being able to sneeze on receivers in the middle of the field anymore, it is more wide open than ever. Whenever you see a wide receiver take a hard hit, you wince, knowing that today’s NFL almost assuredly will rain flags afterward just because it looked bad.

The running game will always be vital, and you do need it to run-clock at the end of victories – but this is 2019 NFL and not your pappy’s 1990s teams. The NFL wants a high flying Madden video game, and the league is now structured that way.

Ben Roethlisberger is still at the top of his game, and, sorry, the loss of Antonio Brown will not matter (much) in the end. Wide receivers are replaceable while quarterbacks are not. Roethlisberger put up stats and success from the time he entered the field throwing to Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward. Yes, those were great wide receivers – but did Tommy Maddox impress you much with those SAME wide receivers?!

Nope.

The Pittsburgh Steelers still have an elite Roethlisberger and he will make other wide receivers on this roster look great. Besides Ju Ju Smith-Schuster, the Steelers have more than enough talent to air it out with the QB they have targeting them.

Steelers fans, appreciate Big Ben while you still can…unfortunately, it won’t last much longer as Father Time, cruelly, always wins. Don’t kid yourself or think like Antonio Brown – QBs like Roethlisberger are rare, indeed.

The other reason that I’m confident the Steelers will continue to throw it often is that the offensive coordinator is, basically, Ben Roethlisberger. No slight to Randy Fichtner – I like his play calling. But, he is Big Ben’s hand chosen OC, and buddy. If Ben wants to throw it, he’s going to throw it.

Nobody is going to put Ben Roethlisberger back in a Ben-2006 mentality at QB when he can still air it out with the best of them. There’s no head-butting with OC’s like Ken Whisenhunt and Todd Haley anymore. He kicked off his training wheels long ago, and nobody is putting them back on him while he still has the say-so. Sure, he will like having a competent running game and will use it to his advantage, but he firmly holds the keys to this offense now.

Going back to his days at Miami (OH), Big Ben has been a quarterback who likes to chuck it. And, chuck it often he will, regardless of a fine stable of backs, the loss of Antonio Brown, the existence of a great offensive line, and an improving defense. It is the way of today’s NFL, and Ben Roethlisberger can take advantage of that with the best of them. There might be a slight uptick in the run-to-pass ratio towards the running game, but nothing drastic. The pass attempts were a dramatic 67.39 percent last season, so some drop towards the running game should be expected.

But, it goes to show you how much Ben Roethlisberger had an impact on Randy Fichtner’s play calling in his first year as OC.

Big Ben wants to throw!

Plus, Roethlisberger wouldn’t admit this, but I have an inkling he might want to show a certain diva WR that things are just fine without him.

It’s hard to blame professional athletes for being super-sensitive to criticism on social media

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 6:45am

It’s not always easy for players to turn the other cheek in today’s day and age of social media when they’re on the receiving end of hundreds and thousands of insults and criticisms on a daily basis.

When I watched sports as a young child in the 1980s, I assumed most successful athletes were heroes who were embraced in their professional hometowns.

Sure, you’d read or hear about the occasional bad relationship between a superstar and the fans and/or media, but they seemed to be the exception.

Even former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who was super-sensitive to fan criticism when he struggled to gain his footing early in his NFL career, had already earned the adulation of the black and gold faithful well-before he won his second-straight Super Bowl MVP award after leading the Steelers to their fourth Lombardi trophy in six seasons back in January of 1980.

But Bradshaw was obviously someone who never got over the fan negativity that came at him in the form of boos and, I’m sure, hate mail. Of course, back in those days, fans had to actually sit down and write a letter to a player, buy a stamp, find the nearest mailbox and mail it to the team facility. I’m sure it was hard to sit there as a professional athlete and read dozens of hateful letters that were likely filled with the most vile and evil insults known to the English language. But at least back then, a player could choose not to read his mail if he wanted to maintain a positive vibe. And I’m sure many of the nasty letters that came a player’s way didn’t have a return address and probably didn’t include the person’s name—certainly not their face.

Today is different for professional athletes thanks to the advent of social media. Unlike when I was a kid, it’s quite obvious in the modern era that most professional athletes have almost as many critics as they do fans—even the most successful at their sport. Instead of receiving dozens of letters each and every week, they are on the receiving end of hundreds and thousands of Tweets, Facebook comments, etc.

Even when a player posts something that has nothing to do with his profession—”Happy Mother’s Day to this beautiful lady who helped make me the man I am today!”—he is often bombarded with the most ridiculous insults—“Does your mom know how much her son sucks at football?”

The fans obviously come to play every day on the internet: “Instead of asking us which suit looks better, why don’t you concentrate on catching footballs?” So it simply has to get tiresome to have everything you do on social media related back to your performance on the playing field. It has to wear a person out to have to deal with that stuff on a non-stop basis—we’re talking literally.

Therefore, it’s almost understandable that someone will lash out at the fans every now and then. Yes, it’s smart to leave that stuff go—quite frankly, I’m impressed by how many actually do turn the other cheek in the face of such ugliness—but players are human, and every now and then, one of them is going to retaliate with a salvo that insults a fan’s intelligence, looks or even his/her bank account.

The player almost always comes off looking like the bad guy in this scenario and may even have his account suspended by his bosses. This actually happened to former Steelers safety Mike Mitchell in 2014 after he lashed out at fans via Twitter direct messages.

Many say that players should stay away from social media. But that would be asking them to stop engaging in an activity that is omnipresent in society.

It’s pointless to say the fans should comport themselves a little better when engaging with professional athletes on social media—for every fan that decided to send players hateful letters back in the old days, there were probably dozens who would have texted the same things if today’s access was a reality. But that doesn’t make the behavior right. That doesn’t mean it’s fair for Joe from Scott Township to get away free and clean after baiting a professional athlete into insulting him on Twitter.

Finally, there are players who only have themselves to blame for the constant wave of criticism that comes their way. But most professional athletes don’t deserve that kind of daily negativity.

Yes, it’s part of the job. Yes, it comes with the territory. But we all have our breaking points.

It’s not always easy to turn the other cheek when you’ve run out of cheeks to turn.

Podcast: Dark Horses are turning heads, but can they crack the Steelers 53-man roster?

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 5:32am

Join Tony and Bryan for the Steelers news of the week in the latest episode of the ‘Steelers Hangover’.

The Steelers have plenty of players that are shoe-ins to make the team as a part of the 53-man roster. Then there will be guys fighting for their football lives. Who can possibly crack the roster and eventually shine? Join Bryan Davis and Anthony Defeo from BTSC as they share their thoughts afterwards for the extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”.

In case you are new to the show, you can check out a complete rundown of the show below:

  • Fact or Fiction
  • Wha dark horses legitimately have a chance to make it into the regular season?
  • Looking forward to 2019
  • and MUCH MORE!

Check out the show below:

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